This was an extra-credit report for my Environmental Science class. I’d clearly done some real research, so I include it here to be of help to all you Googlers. Notice my misuse of the term “catch-22″.
We see the Moon in the night sky and wonder about its features and attractions. It being our sole natural satellite, it is the most prominent nocturnal feature in our sky, because of its striking beauty, the intricacy of its features, and the scientific fascination it holds for us all.
The moon is believed to be 4.6 billion years old, the same age as Earth. It has a mean distance from Earth of 239,900 miles, but varies 11% when factored with apogetic and perigetic distances. The moon has a density of 3/5, gravity of 1/6, and a size of 1/4 that of Earth. Earth’s mass is 81 times that of the Moon’s. This is because particles can leave the moon much faster because of the low gravity. This forms a catch-22; if a body’s mass is small, then particles can leave faster, and if particles can leave faster, then the body’s mass is small. This also could be explained my factoring in Earth’s gravity and how it affects particles on the Moon. It’s temperature ranges from 262º F at lunar noon to -279º F during lunar night.
The Moon’s rotation, or synodic month, operates on a 29.5 day pattern. The Moon progresses from new moon, to waxing, then first quarter, to waxing gibbous (meaning anything over half-full), then to full moon, then waning gibbous, then to third quarter, then back to new moon. The time between full moons or new moons is called a syzygy. The moon revolves around the Earth in an orbit of 27.32 days, called a sidereal month. Because of the nearly identical revolution and rotation times, the same face of the moon is almost always facing the Earth. This accounts for the “eternal” dark side of the Moon, which stays at -279º+ F nearly all of the time. The Moon moves from terrestrial west to terrestrial east, but since the rotation of the Earth is much faster than the Moon’s revolution, it appears to move from east to west in our skies. It is estimated that the Moon receives upwards of 70-150 meteorite impacts per years, accounting for the varied and extensive crater designs that can be seen by the casual observer.
Many land features appear on the Moon when observed closely. The most noticeable of these are craters, large bowls of land that have been blasted out by severe meteorite impacts. In the middle of each crater is usually a small spike of land that has been violently blown upwards by the forces of the impact. The largest crater on the Moon is the Bailly crater, which is 183 miles wide and 13000 feet deep. Earlier this year, the Navy lunar satellite Clementine photographed, using special digital sensors, a 100 foot spike of land protruding sharply from the center of one of these craters. This spike was probably caused by a meteor impact, but some of the more paranoid members of the scientific community believe this to be an alien-constructed “spire”. This shows that much of the moon remains to be discovered and catalogued. Along with craters, the moon contains many impressive chains of mountains, the largest of which are the Leibnitz and Doerfel ranges along the lunar south pole. The peaks of these mountains reach as high as 20,000 feet, comparable to much of the Himalaya Mountains. The large dark patches that one sees when moon-gazing are called “mares”, the Latin word for “sea”. Long ago, astronomers believes these passages to be actual bodies of water, and the name stuck. The largest lunar “sea” is the Mare Imbrium, which is 750 miles wide. The Moon, though appearing dead in space to us, is actually very alive with tectonic activity. Earthquakes and subductional mountains are being formed constantly, as they are here on Earth. There are very few volcanoes, per se, but there are what are termed gaseous eruption. The first recorded eruption of this kind was observed in November of 1958 by experienced Russian astronomer Nikolay Kozyrev. The “volcano” responsible was Mount Alphonsus, named for King Alfonso X of Castille. This brilliant event displayed the Moon’s vivid activity.
One of the most disputed topics about the Moon is its formation. The first, and earliest, theory is that the Moon was once part of Earth but broke away. This is also called “the fission theory of Lunar creation.” Some scientists believe that the Moon was formed elsewhere in the solar system early in solar creation and was “captured” by the Earth’s gravity. The most widely accepted theory today is that the moon was formed already in the orbit of the Earth, and consists of fused particles of “escaped” Earth material. This explains the clear resemblance between lunar and terrestrial soil.
Another debated topic is the prospect of life on the Moon, both lunar and terrestrial. Though laughed down by many scientists today, the possibility of frozen water in permafrost at the lunar poles provides mechanisms by which to spawn life. The problem remains that the Moon’s atmosphere is less than one billionth that of Earth’s, which means that there is no shield to protect and organisms from deadly ultraviolet and solar proton radiation. In the span of a half and hour, the most radiation-resistant organism on Earth would have received well over a lethal dose of solar energy. By the 1960s, it is estimated that over 100,000,000 microorganisms had been intentionally or unintentionally brought to the moon and left their, either in experiments, or brought along in our lunar roving craft. These organisms would have been killed instantly from the radiation, unless protected. All of this “space junk” is still up there, some of it partially or completely radiation-proof. This suggests that organisms brought to the Moon could have been radioactively mutated into an extremely hardy species. Sound like “Michael-Crichton-Andromeda-Strain” stuff? Think about it. It’s possible. The possibility also remains for life beneath the lunar surface. Tests have shown that at one meter below the surface, there is no solar radiation and the temperature remains at a constant 230 K. The problem of zero atmosphere or liquids remains, but it is a possibility worth exploring.
In conclusion, it should be stated that the Moon remains a fascinating body that should be explored to its full potential. Our nearest space neighbor provides an incredible testing ground for deep space rovers and planetary explorers. The Moon will always be there for us.